Melting Pot

George & Elmira Wymer, @1910.

In 1860, census records of Bourbon Township, Indiana, show Michael Wymer, age 31, living with his wife Eliza Fischer and the eldest two of their eventual ten children. Michael and Eliza were born in present-day Germany. Other records show they were married in New York in 1853, where their oldest child George was born. George, a first-generation American, was my second great-grandfather.

Currently somewhere between one and two percent of the US population identifies as Native American. The rest of us came from, or are descended from people who came from, somewhere else.

I have always marveled at the parade of athletes in the Olympics, and the array of national and ethnic backgrounds the US athletes carry in their names. The melting pot is a romantic notion, of course. We all have NEVER welcomed everyone here. Institutionally, we have always put up barriers to entry and barriers to success. But ultimately, we from all over the world have become we the people of the United States.

For more than three years, Jim and I have been helping teach English to students from all over the world. They come from Syria, Venezuela, Sudan, Kurdistan, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Congo, Lebanon, India, Ecuador, Thailand, South Korea, France, China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Taiwan, and other countries!

Some of our students are here for a short time to visit family members. Some are here for their own or a spouse’s temporary employment or study at the university. Others intend permanent immigration.

While we help them, they also help each other learn English and find resources to deal with every day problems; they cheer each other on toward getting driver’s licenses and immigration status; and they provide a social network and friendship. There is nothing different or “other” about them. They are smart, creative, funny, courageous people, the same as my immigrant ancestors and yours.

We are all types of people, and we are from all over the world. We have a wide range of occupations and always have. When Michael Wymer was farming in northern Indiana, about half the men in the state farmed, while the rest undertook trades and employment of other kinds. Fifty years later his son George worked in the Singer Sewing Machine factory in South Bend, IN. Though the demographics of employment have changed since 1860, we still need all kinds of workers to have a successful economy.

***

In March 2020 I began a new quilt called “Melting Pot” with  an Ohio Star block as the center.

The middle patch of the block, in black and cream, is from a panel print by Julie Paschkis. It is framed by a solid bronze, with star points in maroon traditional print, and a small-scale pale blue plaid men’s shirt as the background. I’ve been working primarily from stash for the last two years, so when I considered turning the block on point, I looked in stash first. The wild swirly black and bronze batik echoed the swirling branches in the center patch. At first I hesitated: would the batik work with the others?

You can use all kinds of fabrics in the same quilt: panels, solids, traditional prints, contemporary prints, Civil War reproductions, and batiks. Even cast-off clothing can work within the composition. In fact, once you’ve opened your mind (and heart) to using many kinds of fabrics, you can create a kind of harmony not possible otherwise. 

Melting Pot. 2020. 71″ x 71″. 

***

Besides the romantic myth of the melting pot, that the US is a happy blend of many flavors, there is another myth, far more sinister. It is the myth that there is no room here for others. The myth that people from other countries pose a danger to us and our democracy. As we have seen in the past five years, as has been emphasized in the last few months, the greatest danger to our country is home-grown. White supremacists and white nationalists are the equivalent of Germany’s Nazis. They would install an authoritarian government rather than follow the will of the people and the rule of law.

My ancestors and most likely theirs came from other countries, and most did so for opportunities they did not have in their homelands. They came here because of the democracy, not in spite of it. If we wish for the democracy to continue, we must support it by repudiating the voices promoting racism, religious bigotry, and the “America First” movement. We must vote for those who uphold their oaths of office, to protect and defend the Constitution. We must call out those who support insurrection. If we do not, we risk losing this democracy, this melting pot, this United States.

23 thoughts on “Melting Pot

  1. Martha C.

    Thank you for highlighting your joyful quilt, your service in the community and sharing your needful thoughts. From the Know-Nothings to the Klan to the MAGA militia (not an inclusive listing BTW) many have tried and failed at defeating our democracy’s highest aspiration: Liberty and justice for all. For a recounting of our immigrant nation I’d suggest watching a few recent episodes of Finding Your Roots on PBS.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for reading and commenting. My husband and I do watch Finding Your Roots. It’s an excellent way to understand that, more than we might think, we are all related. Thanks again.

      Reply
  2. jim fetig

    Quilts have been used to tell stories for a long time. This one is both beautiful and spot on. I’m reminded of my time as an administrator at Georgia Tech. As a world class polytechnic, Tech attracts brilliant students from all over the world.

    Initially I quietly worried that we were training the world to overtake our economy. Should we be bringing these students here and giving them access to the family jewels? I wondered and kept observing.

    Eventually I learned that we got far more than we gave. The student’s unique perspectives, their intellect and limitless creativity and us better. Moreover, the very best stayed here to teach, invent and work. The United States got the best part of the deal.

    Reply
  3. katechiconi

    As a ‘new ingredient’ in Australia’s own melting pot, I feel the truth of what you say. It’s also true to say that immigrants bring their own notions of what is right, is normal, is good, to their new homes to add flavour to the gumbo. For me, the answer lies in letting people be people: my neighbour, my colleague, my friend, rather than the stranger, the poorly-understood other, the dangerously different. Perhaps we should reconsider our use of the the word ‘they’. ‘We’ is so much nicer…

    Reply
  4. Lisa in Port Hope

    I live how the angled lines echo each other in the different borders. And I’m Canadian, but in these challenging times yout sentiments are valid for any country and for the entire world. We have a tiny enemy and it doesn’t care what colour your skin is or what language you speak, so we need to focus on that and not ephemeral grasping at power.

    Reply
  5. jmn

    The quilt is a lovely metaphor. Also in Canada we all (but the First Nations peoples) came from somewhere else. Our experiment was a bit different – not a “melting pot” but a “mosaic” – it’s fostered a bit more acceptance of the diversity within our population but we also face unfathomable racism and our relationship with our First Nations is abysmal.

    Reply
  6. Kerry

    Oh I do love a good star quilt. It is beautiful, Melanie. A post from the heart – and what a wonderful history. Crazy things happening over here too which are very disturbing.

    Reply

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